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MS. SIMPLICITY: Organizing the most important papers in life

Melissa Schmalenberger, Ms Simplicity columnist

FARGO — Paper. Paper. Paper. The universal item that most people struggle to organize. There are papers that come home with kids from school. There are papers that come in the mail. There are papers that you are given when you do banking. And then as we get older there are papers that we really need to have well organized in case of an emergency.

So, if we were just going to focus on the essentials, what would you place in a file?

Some items will need to be updated continuously and others will only need to be updated every so often. This is different for every individual, but here is a list of some common pieces of paper to place in the file to get started:

• Copy of your will with instructions as to where the original is kept.

• Medical history with all your current prescriptions and any known allergies or medical conditions or even surgeries.

• Any password information to log on to websites or accounts for financial information.

• Information on the location and keys to any safety deposit boxes.

• Written wishes, such as burial, funeral, organ donation.

• Information that you want contained in your obituary.

• Picture you want placed in your obituary.

• All the titles and deeds or information as to where they are located.

• Medicare number along with any supplemental insurance and any contact information.

• Information as to current physician, lawyer, financial planner, accountant and clergy.

• Contact information for important friends or family members.

• Think about adding someone to your mortgage or deeds so that they can easily make changes in the property if needed. Contact your banker for advice.

• All insurance policies with the agent's name. Don't forget car, home, life, health and items of value that are insured.

• List all bank, savings, IRA, retirement accounts, insurance policies, etc., and contact information.

• All papers needed for filing taxes.

• Proof of marriage, divorce or adoption.

• Any military papers or service numbers.

• Social Security number.

• Loan papers with all contact information and most current statement.

• Living Will, Power of Attorney for Health Care and Power of Attorney for Finances. Everyone should have these no matter what your age. Copies should be sent to your children or family members as well as on file with your health care provider. Many of these are available at your local clinic.

And once this is all accumulated, make sure that all papers are kept in a safe place so that any information could not fall into the wrong hands. The easiest thing for most people is to purchase a small waterproof/fireproof safe that you can find at office supply stores or big box stores. Finally, you will want to let a trustworthy person know where these papers are kept. Now you will have peace of mind and rest easy knowing that this is all organized!

Ms. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger, is a professional organizer based out of Fargo and author of “Organizing in Simplicity: Kitchens.” Email her at